In Memory of Peter O’Toole
In announcing the death of the great Peter O’Toole, nearly every newspaper carried his picture from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He was only 30 years old at the time, and this was one of his first films. Starring as the legendary T.E. Lawrence, he played a role that will last in history.
It is ironic that his death occurred the same year that author Scott Anderson released his accomplished “Lawrence in Arabia”. Both the book and the film dealt with Mr. Lawrence’s role in leading the Arab uprising against the Ottoman Turks during World War I, only to be betrayed by Western powers in the end. The Arabs were tricked and left as vassals in their own countries, leaving the world to pay a lingering price to this very day for this deception.
Sure, Mr. O’Toole was a rogue in private life, and his excesses were well documented. However, he never hid his personal weaknesses, nor offer some pallid excuse, which made him an even better actor.
Though he was in far too many excellent movies to relive in this short tribute, I have to recommend a few for viewing when you find the time. Start with The Ruling Class (1972), where he played Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney – 14th Earl of Gurney. The good Earl was as mad as a hatter, which helped to explain his belief that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ. That included his habit of napping attached to an immense cross hanging above a large fireplace in his castle.
And while I also loved him in The Stuntman (1980) where he played the title role, my favorite O’Toole role was My Favorite Year (1982). In it, he played a famous movie star by the name of Alan Swann, who was asked to appear on a live TV show that occurred in the 1950’s ala the unforgettable Sid Caesar and Steve Allen.
However, there was one problem, as “Swanny” (a name lovingly attached by an elderly admirer) was petrified at appearing before any live audience. Driven to excessive drinking to escape that nightmare, among other reasons, he was asked why a man of his stature would fear appearing on a live stage. In one of the great lines in the history of film, he indignantly responded, “My God, man, I’m a movie star, not an actor.”
Finally, you should also take the time to hunt him down in his last meaningful role, Venus (2006). Playing an aging actor who spent time with fellow thespians as they all awaited death, he falls for a young woman who breathes excitement back into his melancholy life. It was Mr. O’Toole playing himself as an old man, and he did it with customary grace and splendor.
Quite frankly, if there is a heaven, I hope they have the good sense to serve alcohol. Somewhere I can’t help but believe that Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton are tying one on. So here’s to you, good sir, gone but not forgotten, an old man forever young.